Liverpool 1835

On Sunday 1 February 1835, while the Expedition’s supplies were being loaded on board, James Fitzjames saved a man from drowning in the River Mersey, Liverpool. Newspapers all over England reported on this heroic act.

Silver Presentation Cup awarded to Fitzjames

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London


Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser – Tuesday 03 February 1835

Mr. FITZJAMES, R.N., OF THE EUPHRATES EXPEDITION – On Sunday afternoon this gallant young officer performed successfully, at the imminent risk of his life, a most heroic act, of which, including ourselves, there were many witnesses. The barque George Canning, having on board the Euphrates expedition, lay at anchor in the river opposite Birkenhead, and as it was expected she might get out to sea next tide, a steamer went to her with the last of the stores. While these were being transhipped a tidewaiter of the name of James Dickenson, who could not swim, in passing, from one vessel to the other fell into the river. At this time it blew a gale of wind, and there was a high sea in the Mersey, and greatly were we surprised when Mr. Fitzjames, in boots, coat, hat, &c., instantly sprang from the George Canning after drowning man. – He succeeded in reaching him ere long and in supporting him by the hair while he floated on his back. They had drifted down a considerable way before the steamer overtook them, but at length they were rescued from their perilous situation and brought back to the George Canning, where Mr. Fitzjames received the congratulations of his brother officers and their friends who had gone on board to take leave. On inquiring we found that Mr. Fitzjames served lately on board of his Majesty’s ship Winchester.


Liverpool Mercury – Friday 06 February 1835

COURAGE AND HUMANITY. We have the most sincere pleasure in giving publicity to the subjoined account of an act of intrepidity, presence of mind, and humanity, which does honour to human nature; and we take the opportunity, cordially, to compliment the man who could perform such an act, and our townsmen who have so promptly evinced their approbation of his conduct.  

The Euphrates Expedition. – This interesting expedition is at length fairly afloat in our river, and will sail first fair wind, after a vexatious detention, which we have heard with a regret, renders less certain the success of the enterprise. We trust, however, that the George Canning, now lying at anchor off Egremont Ferry, a fine ship of 400 tons, on board of which the whole is embarked, may have a quick passage to the coast of Syria, as she will be joined at the Cove of Cork by his Majesty’s steamer Alban, which will accompany her to her destination. We are informed that fifteen officers, every one of them distinguished by eminent scientific, literary, or professional attainments; twenty picked artillerymen, chiefly artificers, six enginemen, seven Liverpool blacksmiths, and two interpreters, are engaged in the expedition, in all fifty persons, under the command of Colonel Chesney, of the Royal Artillery. The officer, second in command, is already in Syria, making arrangements. At Malta a number of labourers and seamen will be engaged. The George Canning has on board two iron steamers in frame, the Euphrates and the Tigris, with their materiel and ample stores, in all, probably, little short of 300 tons weight. These are made up into many packages, which will be transhipped on the coast of Syria into small country craft, and conveyed up the Orontes as far as it is navigable. This river, after passing the ancient city of Antioch, falls into the Mediterranean, near the Gulf of a Scanderoen. These packages will be taken from the Orontes to Bir on the Euphrates, across a desert of probably 150 miles, chiefly by camels, which carry about half a ton weight each, and may be hired on the coast of Syria to any number, and at a trifling expense. Some of the heaviest articles will be mounted on carriages which are taken out on purpose. At Bir the steamers will be re-constructed, and the Grand Seignor and Mehemet Ali have promised their protection as far as their authority extends. We have picked up on ‘Change many other details of the Euphrates expedition, which we defer mentioning for the present, in the hope of an official report being soon published. We sincerely wish success to the enterprise, but apprehend it has many difficulties and dangers to encounter, as will be seen by any one who carefully studies the minutes of evidence on steam communication with India given before the committee of the House of Commons. This volume contains much curious information, and we strongly recommend it to the attention of our readers.

Mr. Fitzjames, R.N., who goes out with the expedition, has been very much the subject of conversation here this week. On Sunday afternoon this gallant young officer performed successfully, at the Imminent risk of his life, a most heroic act, of which, there were many witnesses. The barque George Canning, having on board the Euphrates expedition, lay at anchor in the river opposite Birkenhead, and as it was expected she might get out to sea next tide, a steamer went to her with the last of the stores. While these were being transhipped a tidewaiter of the name of James Dickenson, who could not swim, in passing from one vessel to the other, fell into the river.
At this time it blew a gale of wind, and there was a high sea In the Mersey. There were many persons on the deck of the transport, as well as of the steamer and greatly were they surprised when Mr. Fitzjames, In boots, coat, hat, &c, instantly sprang from the George Canning after the drowning man. He succeeded In reaching him ere long and in supporting him by the hair while floated on his back. They had drifted down a considerable way before the steamer overtook them, but at length they were rescued from their perilous situation and brought back to the George Canning, where Mr. Fitzjames received the congratulations of his brother officers and their friends who had gone on board to take leave. On Inquiry we found that Mr. Fitzjames served lately on board of his Majesty’s ship Winchester.

It will be seen in another column that our Corporation have done themselves the honour of conferring the freedom of the borough on Mr. Fitzjames; and we have satisfaction in stating, that a few gentlemen in, our Exchange news-room have presented him with a splendid silver goblet, with beautifully executed marine devices, bearing the following inscription –
“Presented to Mr. Fitzjames, R.N. of the Euphrates Expedition, by his friends in Liverpool, as a token of their admiration of his gallant heroism in saving a drowning man In the River Mersey, on Sunday, February 1, 1835, at the imminent hazard of his own life-“

The Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser of 6 February 1835 reports the same, but adds at the end:
“We hope this goblet may long remain in the family of “Fitzjames” as an heir-loom, and be filled on all festive occasions, like the “Blessed bear of Biadwardine.”


Patriot – Wednesday 11 February 1835

INTREPID CONDUCT.—We learn by letters from Liverpool, that the exploit referred to in Saturday’s paper, whereby the life of a poor sailor belonging to the Euphrates’ expedition was happily saved, exhibited on the part of Mr. Fitzjames a rare instance of intrepidity and prompt humanity. This young officer, on seeing the poor fellow fall overboard, never waited to free himself from a single incumbrance, but with hat, boots, and heavy great coat as he stood, jumped at once over the bulwarks into the Mersey, then running as rapid as the Severn, and after swimming a considerable time, caught the drowning seaman by the hair of the head, until both were picked up in an exhausted state by a boat from the vessel. The sailor must inevitably have perished but for this daring act of the gallant midshipman, who lost a valuable watch on the occasion. Mr. Fitzjames has served in the West Indies, in North and South America, and for some years past in the Mediterranean, and bears from all his successive commanders the highest reputation as a promising and meritorious officer. He has already passed for a lieutenant, and assuredly his recent conduct ought to recommend him to the Admiralty.


Hereford Times – Saturday 21 February 1835

INTREPIDITY AND PROMPT HUMANITY.—A few days ago, Liverpool, Mr. Fitzjames, young naval officer, saved the life of a poor sailor belonging to the Euphrates expedition, under circumstances of great interest. We copy the account from the Times: — “This young officer, on seeing the poor fellow fall overboard, never waited to free himself from a single incumbrance, but with hat, boots, and a heavy great coat, as he stood, jumped at once over the bulwarks into the Mersey, then running as rapid as the Severn, and after swimming a considerable time, caught the drowning seaman by the hair of the head, until both were picked up in exhausted state by a boat from the vessel. The sailor must inevitably have perished but for this daring act of the gallant midshipman, who lost a valuable watch on the occasion. Mr. Fitzjames has served in the West Indies, in North and South America, and for some time past in the Mediterranean, and bears from all his successive commanders the highest reputation as a promising and meritorious officer. He has already passed for a lieutenant, and assuredly his recent conduct ought to recommend him to the Admiralty.” The corporation has since conferred on Mr. Fitzjames the freedom of the borough, and a few gentlemen of the Exchange News room have presented him with a splendid silver goblet, with beautifully executed marine devices, and a suitable inscription of admiration and gratitude.


The Liverpool Mercury and Liverpool Standard correctly report that the drowning man was a tidewaiter (an officer in various preventive customs services who boards ships and watches the landing of goods, any customs inspector working at dockside or aboard ships), while other papers incorrectly say the drowning man was a sailor of the Euphrates Expedition.

Newspapers found on and transcribed from: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk


Francis Rawdon Chesney – Commander Euphrates Expedition

Whilst taking the ammunition on board a circumstance occurred, which, as commemorating the gallant conduct of Mr. Fitzjames, deserves a corner in these pages. I give it in the words of his brother-officer, Mr. Charlewood:
‘At daylight I commenced getting everybody and the remainder of the stock on board. The last thing was the powder, which came alongside in a Birkenhead steamer. I was in the magazine superintending the stowage, when the cry of “a man overboard” brought me on deck. It proved to be the tidewaiter in attendance, who, on stepping from the steamer to the ship, had slipped overboard between the two vessels. Fitzjames saw this, and was after him in an instant. Never have I seen anything done so nobly. The tide was running at the rate of six knots, with a strong breeze and piercing cold, yet Fitzjames managed to keep the man up (who could not swim) till they were picked up about half a mile astern. I never felt so happy as when we saw him once more safe on board. Most richly does he deserve promotion. It is blowing a gale from the south.’
Fitzjames’s bravery was not overlooked. His companions in future difficulties and dangers hailed his gallant conduct as an omen of success, and it awakened also a warm and generous local feeling; for a deputation from the Town Council of Liverpool came off to present him with a cup and the freedom of the borough, which fact was, as a matter of duty on my part, made known to Lord Ellenborough, and to the King also, through Sir Herbert Taylor. Throughout the whole of our Expedition Fitzjames evinced this same gallant, unselfish, and joyous disposition combined with untiring energy, which no doubt sustained him to the last through the far greater perils and sufferings, ending in lingering death, which he encountered and shared at a later period, with his noble friend and commander Sir John Franklin.
– from Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition. Carried on by Order of the British Government during the years 1835, 1836, and 1837 1868


Edward Charlewood – Mate / Acting Lieutenant Euphrates Expedition

“Here let me record a most gallant act of poor Fitzjames. We were at anchor in the River Mersey, with a steamer alongside, with the powder.
I was employed stowing it away in the hold, and Fitzjames was on deck, superintending the getting it on board. Suddenly I heard a considerable noise on deck, and rushed up in time to see Fitzjames floating away some distance astern, holding up a man.   The tide was running a good five miles an hour.   A boat was quickly lowered, both were picked up, and in the course of time were safe on board. It appeared that a Custom-House officer, in crossing from the steamer to the transport, missed his footing and fell overboard.  Fitzjames instantly jumped after him, and had he not done so, the man would have been drowned, for he could not swim. The Corporation of Liverpool presented Fitzjames with a silver cup and the freedom of the town, and the Shipwreck Society sent him their silver medal.”
– from Passages from the Life of a Naval Officer 1869


William Ainsworth – Surgeon / Geologist Euphrates Expedition

Whilst still engaged taking in stores off Liverpool, a tide-waiter, by some accident or other, fell overboard. The gallant Fitzjames, one of our naval officers, who afterwards perished on the expedition in search of Captain Franklin, never hesitated, but jumped into the Mersey, caught the man by the hair of his head, and held him up until assistance came. The feat was all the more courageous as Fitzjames had all his clothes on, and a spring-tide was setting up the river at rapid speed.
– from A Personal Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition 1888

[Fitzjames of course did not perish “on the expedition in search of Captain Franklin”. He was a member of Franklin’s Expedition in search of completing the Northwest Passage.]